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MEN OF MATHEMATICS
born mathematician and could no more keep away from mathe-
matics than a duck can from water. So in October 1880 (she
was then thirty), she wrote begging Weierstrass to advise her
again. Xot waiting for his reply she packed up and left Moscow
for Berlin. His reply, had she received it, might have caused her
to stay where she was. Nevertheless when the distracted Sonja
arrived unexpectedly he devoted a whole day to going over her
difficulties with her. He must have given her some pretty
straight talk, for when she returned to Moscow three months
later she went after her mathematics with such fury that her
gay friends and silly parasites no longer recognized her. At
Weierstrass" suggestion she attacked the problem of the pro-
pagation of light in a crystalline medium.
In 1882 the correspondence takes two new turns, one of
which is of mathematical interest. The other is Weierstrass*
outspoken opinion that Sonja and her husband are unsuited to
one another, especially as the latter has no true appreciation
of her intellectual merits. The mathematical point refers to
Poincare, then at the beginning of his career. With his sure
instinct for recognizing young talent, Weierstrass hails Poincare
as a coining man and hopes that he will outgrow his propensity
to publish too rapidly and let his researches ripen without
scattering them over too wide a field. *To publish an article of
real merit every week - that is impossible', he remarks, referring
to Poincare's deluge of papers.
Sonja's domestic difficulties presently resolved themselves
through the sudden death of her husband in March 1883. She
was in Paris at the time, he hi Moscow. The shock prostrated
her. For four days she shut herself up alone, refused food, lost
consciousness the fifth day, and on the sixth recovered, asked
for paper and pencil, and covered the paper with mathematical
formulae. By autumn she was herself again, attending a scien-
tific congress at Odessa.
Thanks to Mittag-Leffler, Madame KowalewsM at last
obtained a position where she could do herself justice; in the
autumn of 1884* she was lecturing at the University of Stock-
holm, where she was to be appointed (in 1889) as professor for
life. A little later she suffered a rather embarrassing setback
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